Homeowner Warranty Service Obligations for a Modular Home

Homeowners have a few warranty service obligations of their own that must be taken seriously, especially those relating to normal maintenance and care. A good overview of the homeowner’s responsibilities can be found in a booklet by the National Association of Home Builders titled, “Home Maintenance Made Easy.”

Homeowner Warranty Service Obligations – Notify Responsible Party

One responsibility often ignored by homeowners is the obligation to contact the appropriate party in a timely fashion when a warranty service situation is discovered. Even a simple warranty issue can become serious and require an expensive fix when you delay reporting it. For example, if your front door leaks a little water every time it rains because the threshold needs to be adjusted, the finished flooring and framing can quickly become damaged.

Homeowner Warranty Service Obligations – Maintenance and Care

Modular homes are strong, but they are not indestructible. Expect your home to show signs of normal wear and tear over time, and accept responsibility for fixing the inevitable results.
You will want to restore your home to as-new-as-possible condition after the first heating season, since most of the settling and drying of wood will have occurred by that point. In a typical home, completing this tune-up usually takes a day or two by someone who has carpentry, drywall, and painting skills. Some of these normal changes will reappear in subsequent years, but they should be less noticeable and easier to repair.
If your modular dealer was also your GC, it is reasonable to expect him to correct these problems before your warranty expires. It is less clear, however, who should make these corrections when the dealer and GC are separate companies. Some of the drywall and moldings will have been installed by the manufacturer, and some by the GC. You could insist that each correct what they built, but this assumes that all changes in a particular area of your home are due to the company that completed the work in the area, which is not always the case. If your home has excessive drywall cracks in a few different areas, for example, they could have been caused by the way the manufacturer built your home or by the way the GC leveled the sill plate. If there is a lot of shrinkage of the wood moldings and floors installed by the manufacturer, it could have been due to the materials used by the manufacturer or to excess moisture that entered the home during the button-up. The best course in this situation is to contract with your GC to complete all of the tune-up, regardless of who built the different parts of your home.
Your GC may balk at taking on this responsibility. Since he did not build the modules, he might fear that he is exposing himself to too big a risk. In addition, if he has no prior modular experience, he may feel unable to predict the amount of time required for the tune-up. A fair way to handle this is to agree to pay him for his actual time and materials. An alternative would be to take on the work yourself, if you have the skills.
When completing the tune-up, the GC should retape any cracks in the drywall or the tape covering the drywall. He might be tempted to cover them with compound or caulk to save time and money, but the cracks will reappear if he does. On the other hand, fine cracks in the mud covering the drywall tape can be filled with a high-quality, paintable caulk. Small, open miter joints or other small gaps between pieces of wood can be filled with wood filler or caulk; larger gaps should be corrected by removing and reinstalling the wood. Popped drywall fasteners should be driven further into the framing, when possible. Otherwise, additional fasteners should be used. A small gap between a wall and a kitchen or bath countertop should be filled with caulk.
After these corrections are completed, the reworked areas can be touched-up, ideally with paint or stain left over from the original button-up. If the GC has to buy new paint or stain, he may not be able to obtain an exact color match with the previous application.
Although you do not need to, you might want to wait until your home has finished settling and drying out before  painting the walls and ceilings with custom colors. If you do not wait, you should save some matching paint to complete the tune-up. However, you may still need to paint an entire wall or ceiling in a room when you do the tune-up to avoid shadows caused by slight variations in color.
You might also want to wait until your home has finished settling and drying out before wallpapering or stenciling. Regardless of when you apply it, you will be responsible for repairing any damage to the wallpaper due to settling or drying.
For more information about modular home warranty service, see Warranty Service for a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

Modular Home Warranty Service Disagreements

In my last blog I discussed warranty service expectations, inspections, and procedures.  In this blog I will discuss what happens if you disagree with your dealer or GC about whether something in your home is defective, damaged, or poorly installed.

Building Codes and Warranty Service

When a warranty service problem involves a building-code violation, the burden will usually be on the manufacturer, dealer, or GC to correct the problem. Installing the wrong type of smoke detector is something the dealer, through his manufacturer, must correct. Using undersized framing for your site-built garage or deck is the kind of mistake the GC must correct. The dealer is not, however, automatically responsible for meeting specifications that exceed the state building code. For example, if your local building inspector insists that an air-infiltration barrier must be installed under your siding, but this is not the required by the state building code, your dealer would be accountable only if he had accepted responsibility for verifying whether any special codes were being enforced in your community. If you agreed to assume this responsibility but failed to obtain the correct information, than you would be responsible for the additional material and labor, including, in this case, the cost for removing and reinstalling whatever siding was already installed by the manufacturer.

Contractor Scope of Work and Warranty Service

The GC is not responsible when the scope of work for a task was not included in his original contract with you. For example, the fact that you need a set of stairs from the door to the backyard does not obligate the GC to provide them if you excluded them so you could build a deck in the future. Nor is the GC responsible for providing clean backfill to place around the foundation if the building inspector declares that the soil that was removed from the cellar hole cannot be used as backfill. If the GC uses the fill before the building inspector instructs him not to, the GC will be responsible for removing it, since he is obligated to know the building code. You will still be responsible, however, for paying for the replacement fill as well as for removing the rejected fill, if it needs to be taken from your site, since you needed this to be done regardless of the GC’s mistake.

Quality Guidelines for Warranty Service

Cosmetic issues are often sources of warranty service disagreements. A customer should receive the degree of finish they selected and paid for, but this is often different from what they may have seen in a model home. One way to handle disputes of this kind is to have your contract include a set of quality guidelines for materials and workmanship that can be used to help settle differences. Keep in mind, however, that guidelines and standards spell out the minimum acceptable workmanship and product performance. Your personal standards will likely exceed these standards in some areas.

Warranty Service and What Is “Good Enough”?

One perspective taken by guidelines for materials and workmanship is that it is neither realistic nor fair to expect a modular dealer or general contractor to remove blemishes that are not readily visible or noticeable, and can only be seen in unusual light or from very close range. Finished drywall, especially, will almost always show minor blemishes in the right light and from the right angle. For a customer to insist that such small items be addressed under warranty is to create a potentially antagonistic relationship. The customer wants their dealer and GC to take seriously those things that are most important to them. They do not want to create an atmosphere in which the dealer or GC feels compelled to deny assistance by appealing to some technicality in a set of guidelines that relieves them of responsibility. In other words, if the customer can exercise some flexibility over defining what’s “good enough,” they should expect the dealer and GC to adopt a similar attitude. You could ask your dealer to replace a pine bifold closet door with a small dent on the inside, which can only be seen when the closet is open. If you do so, however, do not be surprised if he tries to hide behind a technicality for some other item that’s important to you.
For more information about modular home warranty service, see Warranty Service for a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

Modular Home Warranty Service

Modular Home Warranty Service Expectations                                           

When you buy a modular home, you expect it to arrive without mistakes, defects, or damaged materials. If you discover any, you expect the manufacturer to repair or replace them. You also expect the manufacturer to provide this warranty service at no cost to you. Manufacturers usually understand these expectations, but they have a few of their own. They will accept responsibility for problems found when your home arrives, but they expect your dealer, as well as you and your general contractor (GC), to accept responsibility for any damages incurred after that. This seems fair, and in principle it is. When you purchase your home from a dealer who completes the GC work, your warranty service expectations are likely to be met. When the dealer and GC are separate companies, however, the situation can trigger contention and distrust.

Modular Home Manufacturer’s Quality Inspections

A modular home is typically built with most of its interior complete. Walls, cabinets, tubs, doors, moldings, and electrical outlets are almost always installed at the factory. All of these products can be damaged accidentally, and this can happen as easily at the factory as at your site. Your home will be thoroughly inspected before it leaves the factory. The manufacturer will try to repair or replace any defective or damaged goods before shipping the home. When that is not possible without causing a delay, the manufacturer will document the problem, make plans to fix it at your site, and inform the dealer so that you are not surprised. Either way, the inspection enables the manufacturer to document any warranty problems with your home.The inspection, however, does not preclude disagreements between the manufacturer, dealer, and GC. If you discover any damage to your home after it is delivered and set, it could have been caused by the manufacturer even though it is not listed on the inspection report. But it could also have been caused by someone on your site.
The manufacturer could have missed an item, or an employee could have caused the damage and failed to report it. The same damage, however, could have been caused by one of the GC’s subcontractors, who may or may not have been aware of it. You or a friend could have unknowingly caused the damage.

Modular Home Warranty Service Procedures

A warranty service inspection checklist
The modular home dealer and general contractor will complete a warranty service inspection with the customer after the set.

Under the circumstances, it is not surprising that there are occasional disagreements over who is responsible for damages. The modular industry has developed a procedure for handling these warranty service situations. Modular manufacturers attempt to minimize these misunderstandings by requiring their dealers to identify and report in writing any warranty service issues right after the set. You can expect your dealer to insist that you complete a warranty service inspection, and sign the resulting written report. If the GC is separate from your dealer, ask him to sign the warranty service report along with you. You should receive a copy of the warranty service report that is also signed by the dealer.
The exact time allowed for the inspection varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, with some giving the dealer 24 hours after the set and others allowing him a few days for some items and a few weeks for others. Items that are easily damaged on site, such as installed vinyl floors and carpeting, are less likely to be covered beyond a few days unless there are extenuating circumstances. This warranty service procedure allows the manufacturer to limit its responsibility to preexisting conditions. Consequently, if you find a damaged item after the reporting period expires, the manufacturer will assume that the damage was caused by someone on your site, and will not accept responsibility for correcting it.
Since the set-day activities can cause accidental damage to a home, some manufacturers require the dealer to complete the warranty service inspection as soon as the modules are delivered. This is common with manufacturers who ask their dealers to select an independent set crew. Since the dealer selects the crew, the manufacturer wants the dealer to assume responsibility for any set-day damages. The manufacturer secures this accountability by having the dealer complete its warranty service inspection before the set. While this may seem reasonable, a delivery day inspection is unfair to the dealer and the customer. It is impractical to complete an accurate inspection on delivery day, given the poor lighting available in each plastic-wrapped module. It is also difficult to inspect a module when it is stuffed with ship-loose materials. Waiting until after the modules are set allows for a more accurate inspection. If at all possible, resist a delivery-day inspection.
In my next blog I will discuss disagreements about warranty service coverage.
For more information about modular home warranty service, see Warranty Service for a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

Seeing the Exterior Elevation You’re Getting

Getting the Exterior Elevation You Want            

Last week I pointed out that the marketing literature for most house plans displays a dressed-up exterior elevation. This is significant because the ornate features shown are not usually included in the standard base price for the plans. Many a customer has assumed they were getting everything they saw in the literature drawing, only to find out when the house was built that they were getting a simpler, less adorned version.
I suggested last week that there are two ways to make sure you are getting what you want.  The first is to look closely at the specifications listed in the modular builder’s estimate, and the second is to have the builder provide you with a drawing of the exterior elevation showing exactly what you’re getting.

Three Levels of Exterior Elevation

There are three levels of detail that must be included if you are to get an exact drawing of what your finished home will look like:  the manufacturer must draw what you are ordering, not a generic drawing; the dealer or general contractor must add the site-built structures; and someone must map both of these onto the slopes and contours of your property.   I’ll discuss the first two requirements today and the third in my next post.

The marketing literature for this T-Ranch plan shows the following options: a 12/12 cape roof, one A-Dormer with a hip roof, a reverse gable, gable returns, vinyl clapboard and scalloped siding, cultured stone siding, a front porch, an upgrade front door, and window moldings around the attic window.
The marketing literature for this T-Ranch plan shows the following options: a 12/12 cape roof, one A-Dormer with a hip roof, a reverse gable, gable returns, vinyl clapboard and scalloped siding, cultured stone siding, a front porch, an upgrade front door, and window moldings around the attic window. Your modular dealer and general contractor needs to include whichever options you select in their exterior elevation drawings, since these show what you will get.

Exterior Elevation of the Modules

All modular manufacturers will provide an elevation plan of your home, but not all of them will draw the exact home you are building. They may instead give you a generic plan showing the home without any of the custom touches you’ve added. For example, they may not show the additional windows and sidelights at the front door you selected, and they may leave out the reverse gable you specified for the roof above your front door.
You should not settle for a generic elevation. Ask your modular dealer to provide you with an elevation plan of what you have ordered from the manufacturer before you authorize him to build it. If his manufacturer will not provide the plan and he is unable to create it himself, ask him to have it drawn by someone else. Even if you have to pay extra for an accurate plan, you need to see it. Little things like the spacing of the windows can matter a lot, especially when you have taken a standard plan and lengthen the plan, added windows, or simply moved some windows within a room to accommodate furniture. In addition, if you are dressing up a plan’s no-frills standard look, you will want to see if your vision holds up to your own scrutiny.

Exterior Elevation of Site Built Structures

Asking the dealer to provide plan-specific elevation drawings will not be sufficient when you are having additional structures such as a garage, deck, or porch built on site. Unless your elevation plans include all site-built structures, you will not be able to review what your home will look like.
However, you might not get the needed assistance from your dealer if he is not serving as your GC. Your dealer may feel that since he is not completing the GC work, he does not know what the GC is planning to do. He may point out that the regulations governing modular construction in your state do not allow the manufacturer to include any of these site-built structures in its permit plans. He may correctly insist that state and local officials only allow the manufacturer to draw what it is building. While this is true, some dealers and manufacturers will help you by creating a separate set of plans that show the GC’s work. Before completing the drawings, they will ask you and your GC to provide the details, insist that you take responsibility for their accuracy, and charge you an additional fee for the assistance. You should make this investment.

Exterior Elevation of Modules and Site Built Structures

An alternative to having the dealer complete the elevation plans is to ask your GC to complete his own set of plans. The advantage to this approach is that he will know exactly what he is building. The disadvantage is that you will now have two sets of incomplete plans, one of your modular home and one of your GC-built structures. The only way they will appear on the same page is if the GC recreates the modular plans or another person integrates the details into a third set of plans, an impractical and wasteful step. This is why it is better to pay the dealer to provide a complete set of plans.
Remember, you need your modular dealer and general contractor to include whichever options you select in their exterior elevation drawings, since these, not their marketing literature, show what you will get.
For more information about how to an accurate exterior elevation of how your home will look when finished, see Designing a Modular Home, Modular Home Specifications and Features, and The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home

Modular Home Set Responsibility

Responsibility for hiring the modular home set crew and crane should always be left to the modular dealer or manufacturer. A customer should refuse to hire the modular home set crew and crane, even if a dealer promises it will save substantial money.

A trained modular home set crew is working with an experienced crane operator to set the 4 modules on this two-story modular home.
A trained modular home set crew is working with an experienced crane operator to set the 4 modules on this two-story modular home.

Why You Should Never Hire the Modular Home Set Crew or Crane

The set procedures require a great deal of specialized knowledge, skill, and teamwork that a modular set crew acquires only through training, supervision, and experience.
Because of the size and cost of the modular units, as well as the risks associated with the modular home set procedure, whoever sets a home has substantial liability.
If a modular home set is done poorly, the general contractor’s job will be made substantially more difficult and the quality of the finished home may suffer as a result.
If someone on the modular home set crew is injured, the person or company that hired the crew could be held liable.

Why Would a Dealer Want You to Hire the Modular Home Set Crew and Crane

The goal of a dealer who asks the customer to hire the crane and the modular home set crew is to hold the customer responsible for any problems with how the house goes together. Since he neither built nor set the home, the dealer can disclaim responsibility for any problems. It is best to avoid dealers who operate this way.
For more information about hiring a modular home set crew, see Selecting a Modular Home Dealer and The General Contractor’s Responsibilities for Building a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home